History of Bretton Woods
Grimeshaw Wood and Pocock’s Wood are classed as ancient semi-natural woodlands. We know they have been continuously wooded for more than 400 years. Less is known about Highlees Spinney, although the presence of many ancient woodland indicator species in the ground flora suggests that it too has a long history.
Archaeologists have found evidence of Iron Age and Roman dwellings and farming activity to the south of Grimeshaw Wood. The name itself is Old English (or ‘Anglo-Saxon’), the ‘shaw’ part coming from the word ‘sceaga’, or small wood. Entries in the Domesday Book of the Normans in 1086 suggest that our area was densely wooded then and it became part of the royal hunting forest.
In 1215, King John signed the Magna Carta. Significantly, in the same year he was persuaded by the Abbott and local knights to sell them the Soke of Peterborough for 1220 silver marks. After a disastrous war in France, then civil war in England, King John probably needed the money. One of the woods mentioned in the documents was ‘the Abbott’s wood, Gruneshauue’.
While other woodlands were cleared, the abbey carefully managed Grimeshaw. Abbey accounts from the beginning of the fourteenth century detail just how important the wood was, providing up to 1800 bundles of firewood a year, plus timber for building and making carts and ploughs.
When the Abbey was closed and its assets seized during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, Grimeshaw Wood was granted to the Dean and Chapter of the newly created Peterborough Cathedral in 1541. It was not until the nineteenth century when Grimeshaw was finally sold to the Fitzwilliams of Milton.
Whilst Grimeshaw lay in the Manor of Walton, part of the Abbey’s estates, Pocock’s Wood was in the manor of Marholm, which was in private hands.
In 1502, Robert Wyttilbury of Milton and his wife Anne sold the manors of Milton and Marholm to William Fitzwilliam, although he leased it back to them for the annual rent of a red rose.
In the Fitzwilliam archives there is a document entitled ‘Survey of my Woodes’, dated 1599, in which the size of ‘Poocock Wood’ is recorded and this is the earliest direct reference found so far. Later ‘Wood books’ show that Pococks Wood was managed as coppice with standards. In 1665, for instance, the coppice wood was sold off and the following year some of the oak standards were also felled for timber.
As Peterborough expanded in the second half of the twentieth century, the woods were bought by the Peterborough Development Corporation. Half of Pocock’s Wood was felled to make room for the crematorium and roads cut through Grimeshaw, but what remains has been left as a public amenity.
These woodlands have a rich history and there is more to be discovered. If you are interested in doing some historical research, whether it is looking in the archives or recording people’s memories of the woods, please contact us.